Pan-Asian food is a Chennai favourite. There are restaurants galore that serve different kinds of Asian food to fit into the Pan-Asian genre. But what makes Va Pho a different kind of Pan-Asian restaurant is the fact that they don’t just stick to the regular cuisines. One look at the menu and you will find Vietnamese, Indonesian, Filipino, Korean, Burmese, Malaysian, Singaporean and obvioulsy the most popular of them of all, Chinese and Thai. When they call it an “Asian Canteen”, they don’t just mean serving you what everybody else likes, it’s about serving you what is good from different parts of Asia. And knowing that it comes under the Oriental Cuisines umbrella, you are guaranteed a culinary journey through Asia with every dish. But that’s not the only thing that separates Va Pho from other restaurants in the city, it’s also fitting into the “fun dining” concept of restaurants.
The fun dining concept has been appearing everywhere of late. While it’s not as popular in India, there are still some places where you can have a good time while your enjoying a delicious meal. If you’re wondering what ‘fun dining’ really does mean, it’s a casual setting with food and drinks and most importantly, games! Va Pho has a shelf that’s filled with games from the infamous Jenga to Monopoly and Chinese Checkers. It’s about sitting down, enjoying some great food, mocktails, desserts and kicking back with your friends to see who can win the crazy game of Jenga.
We visited the restaurant earlier this week and one step inside and you’re totally blown away by the decor. It’s all bright colours and lights, paintings and funky seating. They even have an auto for a photo session! It’s the kind of place that anyone, of any age, would enjoy. Of course, you also need to be accepting of the fact that you might hear things crashing every now and then as someone topples over a Jenga tower. We sat at a high table, with a gorgeous mural behind us, pulled out the box of Jenga and settled in for the evening. Chef Ram Kumar, who is also instrumental in the setting up and smooth running of Benjarong, met with us to walk us through the menu, the concept and even suggested a few dishes that we should definitely have. And when the chef suggests something, you don’t even question it.
As always, we started off with mocktails. As Chef Ram Kumar explained to us, the drinks are served in different kind of bottles and glasses. Repurposed bottles have been turned into Va Pho drinkables. The Rangoon Princess – a lychee, guava and lemon concoction – was served in an half Old Monk bottle, while the Royale Madras – a tender coconut juice with peaches and cinnamon – was served in a half pint beer bottle. Some of the drinks are served in classic milk bottles as well. It’s got the kitschy feel and that’s what makes Va Pho so exciting.
In terms of food, we discussed with Chef Ram Kumar that we’d like to try something different and exciting. And with a menu spanning so many cuisines, it only seemed fair that we try one of everything. The menu is split into different sections and within the starters alone, there’s an interesting breakdown. The Mini Plates have a grill section and a fry and dry section, in the mini plates, there’s also Dim Sums and Bao.
First up, we had the Phuket Beef Satay, which is a familiar dish, but spicy and delicious and when paired with the green mango salad, it’s the perfect treat for any time of day. You can either eat both together, or eat them separately, but it’s still quite delicious.
Then we had the Hargow. It’s a form of Dim Sum, but made with a translucent covering and stuffed with shrimp. If you’ve never had Hargow before, this is definitely where you should try it, because the shrimp was absolutely divine.
After that, we tried the Kam Heaong Broccoli, which is a Malay dish of crispy broccoli tossed with curry leaves and masala. The broccoli was so crispy and delicious that it was difficult to stop eating. Then again, we are huge fans of broccoli.
We also had the BBQ Chicken Bao, because how can you not? Just look at delicious helping. It was the perfect balance to everything else we enjoyed and it. The sauces and the flavouring was absolutely perfect and just what we wanted.
Of course, no meal is complete without soup and Chef Ram Kumar made sure of that too. We had the Saigon Pho which is the National soup of Vietnam. The bowl is served with beef and some vegetables and then once on the table, the broth is poured over the bowl to make the perfect soup. It was absolutely delicious.
We also had the infamous Tom Yum Chicken Soup, which is a favourite for people everywhere. Obviously, if you are not a fan of tomatoes or spicy food, this is not the soup for you. But we believe that everyone should try everything at least once.
To round out the beginning of our meal, we had the Assorted Seafood Salad, which had a mixture of fresh prawns, squid and fish made in a north-eastern Thai method. The combination of seafood and vegetables gave the salad a nice balance.
The main course section of the menu was a little daunting, because there are so many good options, but what does one choose? It’s split into Large bites, Rice, Noodles, Lunch Specials and Curries & Rice. The Lunch Specials are perfect for those who come out from work to enjoy a full meal and head back before lunch break is over. It’s a combination meal of sorts, and it’s absolutely filling. The rice and noodles sections have lots of options too, and you get to choose from Vegetarian or Non-Vegetarian add-ons.
It’s not easy to find Filipino food anywhere in Chennai, but when we voiced our interest, Chef Ram Kumar suggested the Escabeche Filipino which is made with red snapper. The fish is deep-fried and then served with a sauce and some vegetables. Now we can tell everyone that we have eaten Filipino food!
Adding a little more Malay cuisine to our table, we had the Spicy Malay Noodles with prawn. A lot of Malay food is similar to the South Indian food, in terms of ingredients and the way it tastes, so this is definitely something worth trying.
And to finish up our main course, we had the Indonesian Beef Rendang Curry with Coconut Rice. This is a treat for all beef eaters, because the Rendang curry is a speciality of Indonesia and it is absolutely fantastic.
Of course, we had to finish it all up with dessert and we got two great options from Chef Ram Kumar. We had the Sweetened Sticky Rice which was served stuffed with peaches stewed in orange syrup. Traditionally, it’s made with mangoes, but with the season just beginning in the city, it didn’t make sense to use mangoes. But the peaches were still absolutely fantastic.
And finally, the hero dish that we can’t stop talking about – Tender Coconut Ice Cream Stick. This dish looks beautiful too, the ice cream stick is served in a bowl of coconut cream and sago pearls. Dip the ice cream into the coconut cream and take a bite and you’re guaranteed a delicious treat.
We surely hope that this has made you add the restaurant to your list, because you do not want to miss out on this delicious experience.
Va Pho is located in the same space as Seras, Copper Chimney and China Town at 73, Cathedral Road, Gopalapuram.